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This documentary combines recent interviews and old footage to provide a comprehensive view of The Clash, one of the world's most influential rock bands. Footage from old club shows and stadium concerts is intercut with interviews with band members Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon, and Joe Strummer. The Clash began as rebellious punks eager to combine their influences: Simonon leaned towards reggae, and Jones leaned toward harder-edged British rock, while Strummer favored American R&B. Despite various fights and conflicts, The Clash emerged as "the only band that mattered," a punk rock band which ventured beyond punk to create a unique and unforgettable sound. WESTWAY TO THE WORLD documents their beginnings, their rise to stardom, and their collapse. Written by
about as good as we're gonna get with an overall Clash retrospective bio
First the obvious: Don Letts is no Julien Temple. For those who don't know or need a reminder, Temple was director on both the Sex Pistols' The Filth and the Fury and the recent Joe Strummer documentary The Future is Unwritten. As far as the latter goes it is for at least 2/3 of the time focused on Strummer's time leading up to and in the Clash, and oddly enough that short time period in the midst of a two hour movie may be somewhat more substantial as enthralling documentary cinema and storytelling than Westway to the World. This doesn't mean to say that Letts' work in putting together the interviews and a very general outline (i.e. general in about 80 minutes or less running time) is necessarily bad. It isn't. It's actually quite good. But when compared to the buck-stops-here docs on the quintessential British punk rockers, it ends up a little short.
This isn't to say that if you're a fan you shouldn't check it out. In fact, it works even greater when seen in conjunction with the Future is Unwritten. Not least of which because Temple, making his film years after, lifted some specific lines from Strummer for his film in voice-over, but because we get to see with Letts' film an idea of what it was like to be in the highs and lows and what-the-hell-is-this-trip quality of the Clash. They were a band that started out with almost a "Stalinist" method of cutting off from previous friends, starting from ground zero, and made some of the most eclectic and hard rocking and lyrically important music of the 20th century. Like the Doors or Jimi Hendrix they were around for less than a decade, but their mark is significant for their natural musical ability, their tough but rewarding forms of musical collaboration, and their f***-all attitude about doing things very proper in conforming to what people would want.
What one takes away with in Westway to the World is a solid glimpse at a band that knew what they wanted and broke apart for reasons that were petty and harsh but also akin to what many band goes through in terms of mistakes and rubbish between friends. At the same time we also get the sense from all members that they would do it the same if they had to do it over again. That takes some guts. One only wishes that Letts, who has here some notable musical performances (some never seen before) and a couple of choice nuggets as far as real confessions or interest goes, could have gone a step further with the style or not relied as heavily on the shabby title cards. But, as said, it's a must for fans of the "only band that mattered."
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